Episode 44: Using Your Nervous System to Enhance Your Immune System | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • The immune system has three main systems of protection: physical barriers (e.g., skin, eyes), innate immune system (e.g., white blood cells, killer cells), adaptive immune system (e.g., creation of antibodies)
  • Sickness-related behaviors look a lot like depressive symptoms leading to a theory that depression involves activation of inflammatory cytokines
  • Stimulation of the dopamine pathway can accelerate healing and liberate systems in the body which allow inflammatory pathways to go down and anti-inflammatory pathways to go up
  • Wim Hof breathing is a zero-cost tool shown to enhance the immune system by releasing adrenaline and reducing the effects of illness symptoms
  • Wim Hof breathing steps:(1) 20-30 deep inhales and exhales through nose; (2) exhale of all air to empty lungs; (3) hold breath for up to 60 seconds; (4) repeat 2-4 rounds
  • Maintaining a healthy microbiome (gut, eyes, mucus) supports good health: nasal breathe as often as possible, don’t touch eyes after touching other things, ingest fermented foods to enhance gut microbiota

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman takes a dive into the immune system, enhancing immune system function using breathing, hot, and cold, and much more!

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Immune System 101

  • Three main layers of protection: (1) physical barrier AKA skin; (2) innate immune system; (3) adaptive immune system
  • The primary sites of infections from the outside world are through eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth
  • Mucus acts as a filter for bacteria and viruses, making sure certain things don’t make it in and you can extract nutrients from others
  • Innate immune system: rapid response system when the body doesn’t recognize foreign invader (bacteria, virus, or parasite) trying to enter the body
  • White blood cells (part of the innate immune system) will go to the site of the foreign invader and try to kill by engulfing and isolating
  • Cytokines (also part of the innate immune system) send “help me” signals to bring in killer cells and white blood cells to get rid of the foreign invader
  • The adaptive immune system creates antibodies against bacteria, viruses, parasites, physical intruders to the system
  • The adaptive immune system creates a memory of prior infection so it can create antibodies anytime that same invader comes back
  • Hematopoietic stem cells can create and maintain antibodies so recognized virus doesn’t go through
  • Immunoglobulin M (IgM): first of adaptive immune responses that comes on board; this is the first marker you’ll see for new or recent infection
  • Immunoglobulin G (IgG) comes on board later

Maintaining A Healthy Microbiome

  • Maintaining a microbiome is critical for good health – microbiota isn’t just referring to the gut; there’s microbiota along with every orifice of the body from eyes, nostrils, etc.
  • Tip 1: Use nasal breathing (not mouth breathing) as often as possible because the nasal microbiome is particularly good at scrubbing infection
  • Tip 2: Don’t touch your eyes after touching anything else since the eyes are a primary entry point for a lot of bacteria and viruses
  • Tip 3: Enhance gut microbiota by ingesting 2-4 servings per day of low sugar fermented foods

Sickness Behavior

  • Natural behaviors when fighting illness or virus: slow down, reduce grooming activities and cosmetic behaviors, lose appetite, sleep more, vulnerability and desire to have others take care of us – or – desire to be alone more than usual, loss of libido, aversion to bright light
  • More sleep gives the lymphatic system a chance to ramp up activity
  • Sickness behaviors look a lot like depressive symptoms leading to a theory that depression involves activation of inflammatory cytokines
  • Reduced appetite (particularly for protein-rich foods) may be an attempt by the body to reduce iron intake because bacteria thrive when iron is high
  • The vagus nerve connects the body and brain and signals sickness behavior
  • Fever is a functional and adaptive response to kill of invaders
  • There’s a difference between regular sleep and sleep that’s in support of the immune system: sleep associated with infection releases more serotonin to support a robust immune response

Leverage Nervous System To Boost Immune System

  • The nervous system can be activated and used to control the immune system
  • Basics we know give ourselves the best chance at health: hydrate with water and electrolytes, good quality sleep, sunshine, good nutrition, at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, hydration, strong social relationships, etc.
  • The glymphatic system which clears out debris that surrounds injured neurons is underactive in illness
  • Two methods of glymphatic system activation: (1) sleeping on the side instead of back or stomach; (2) sleeping with feet slightly elevated
  • Sauna or hot bath for about 15 minutes will help the body reduce internal temperature afterward (caution – do not get into a sauna if you have a fever)
  • Heat cycle protocol: stay in heat environment for 15 minutes, cool off for 5 minutes, reenter heat
  • Wim Hof breathing protocol was shown to enhance immune system & combat illness
  • Wim Hof breathing steps: (1) 20-30 deep inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth; (2) exhale of all air to empty lungs; (3) hold breath for up to 60 seconds; (4) repeat 2-4 rounds
  • Why does breathing work? Breathing protocol activates the sympathetic nervous system which allows activation of the normal pathway (trigger release of adrenaline and epinephrine) which enhances immune function

Impact Of Mindset On Immune System

  • The way we think about something can change the core of our physiology
  • Keep stress in check: you can worry yourself sick!
  • Stimulation of the dopamine pathway – even by thinking positively about the future – activates the mesolimbic pathway and can increase the rate of healing
  • Stimulation of the dopamine pathway can accelerate healing and liberate systems in the body which allow inflammatory pathways to go down and anti-inflammatory pathways to go up

New Ways To Address Symptoms When You’re Already Sick

  • Spirulina can have powerful effects in relieving nasal stuffiness and inflammation
  • Acupuncture can stimulate vagal-adrenal reflex and reduce inflammation
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Notes By Maryann

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